Home ┬╗ Kidnapping ┬╗ Elizabeth Smart, held captive for nine months in a forest

Elizabeth Smart, held captive for nine months in a forest

Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped at the age of 14. She survived nine months in a makeshift captivity. Thanks to a supermarket attendant, she got her freedom back.

Elizabeth Ann Smart was born on November 3, 1987, in Salt Lake City, Utah, in the United States. She grew up in a loving and devoted family, surrounded by support and care. Elizabeth was a bright teenager with a promising future ahead of her.

Daughter of Edward “Ed” and Lois Smart, she has four brothers and one sister; she is the second oldest child. Her family was part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and everyone was very close. Elizabeth has always been passionate about music.

Elizabeth and sisters / Photo: Reproduction.


June 5, 2002, was an ordinary evening in Salt Lake City, Utah. Elizabeth and her younger sister chatted with their mother in the living room and soon after went to the room they shared.

During the early hours of the morning, a man came through the window and walked down the hallways, moving in the shadows so as not to attract anyone’s attention. He reached Elizabeth’s room and, with calculated coolness, covered his mouth to stifle any warning sounds.

Elizabeth awoke abruptly, her vision blurred and her heart racing, as panic overtook her body. She could feel an icy, sharp object pressing against her neck.

The hitherto unknown man threatened her with death if she did not cooperate. Before this Elizabeth was led through the house to the front door from where she left the house on foot together with her abductor.

Elizabeth’s younger sister Katherine, nine years old, witnessed the whole thing in the next bed while pretending to be asleep. When the little girl realized that the two had left the house, she went to her parents’ bedroom and told them what she had seen.

Lois Smart, the mother, was slow to understand the gravity of what had happened. She even thought that Katherine had had a bad dream and Elizabeth had just gone to the bathroom. As soon as she realized that her daughter was missing, she contacted the police.

Forest Camping

The kidnapper was a man named Brian David Mitchell, who was also a Mormon and claimed to have been chosen by God. He claimed that he should have seven wives and the second had to be Elizabeth.

That night he and Elizabeth walked for several blocks until they came to a forest where he forced the girl to go inside. Right in the center of the woods was a camp tent and another woman was waiting for them.

Wanda Barzee was Mitchell’s first wife. She welcomed Elizabeth with a hug, something that sounded like “you belong to us now. Soon after, the girl was led into the shelter and there she participated in a wedding ceremony between herself and Mitchell.

Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee / Photo: Reproduction.

In the weeks that followed, Elizabeth was constantly raped and threatened. Mitchell always reminded her that if she tried to escape he would quickly go after her family and kill them one by one. It is important to remember that she was only 14 years old at the time of the crime, and he always gave evidence of what he was capable of.

A pinch of hope

Elizabeth spent a lot of time chained to a tree, had few meals, and was beaten physically, sexually, and psychologically. Sometimes Mitchell would leave the camp and the girl would be left in the care of Wanda, who never helped her escape.

After months of captivity, Elizabeth and her captors, Mitchell and Wanda, were in search of a place to take refuge, away from prying and suspicious eyes.

It was at a public library in Sandy, Utah, that fate came into play. A student had visited the library to use the Internet. While browsing she saw a strange couple accompanied by a girl whose resemblance to Elizabeth Smart was undeniable.

It is important to remember that by this time, Elizabeth’s picture was already scattered in the streets, on milk cartons and was a frequent subject on television.

Search flyers for Elizabeth Smart / Photo: Reproduction.

Without arousing suspicion, the girl told the librarian, who promptly called the police. Meanwhile, she kept a low profile, watching from afar as the gears of the rescue operation began to move.

The police, based on the information provided, quickly surrounded the library, closing all possible exits.

When approached, one of the officers approached Elizabeth asking her to identify herself. She says that at the time her body was overcome with a sensation that froze her and made her unable to say a word, so afraid had she become.

Before any further movement, Mitchell interjected that she was his daughter and that it was unacceptable for her to remove her scarf in public. As surreal as it sounds, the policemen believed the man and left.

Katherine is able to identify her attacker

At some point, Katherine was able to identify her sister’s kidnapper. She often concentrated on remembering details that might help the case.

Katherine told her mother that the kidnapper was Emmanuel, the homeless man who had provided construction services for the family weeks before the crime.

Emmanuel, who was actually named Mitchell, was begging on the street and received some coins from Lois while she and Elizabeth were walking downtown. He thanked her and told her that he would be willing to provide gardening or construction services should the family need them.

Weeks later, Ed, the girls’ father hired him to do some work and this is when he approached the family and eventually met Elizabeth and Katherine.

At the time, the family went to the police district, but the authorities did not pay much attention to the statement of a nine-year-old girl. Lois Smart asked that a sketch of the suspect be made, something that the police denied at first.

Release of Elizabeth Smart

In March 2003, an alert witness spotted Elizabeth in a supermarket in Sandy, Utah, accompanied by Mitchell. The police were immediately called and, in a carefully planned operation, Elizabeth was rescued from the hell she was living in.

The supermarket attendant recognized the girl and acted calmly while alerting the authorities. Within minutes many police cars had arrived on the scene and Elizabeth was rescued, while Mitchell and Wanda were taken into custody.


The court case began with the formal indictment of the kidnappers. Brian David Mitchell, considered the mastermind behind the kidnapping plan, was charged with a number of crimes, including kidnapping, rape, and sexual assault.

Wanda Barzee, Mitchell’s accomplice, also faced similar charges related to participation in the criminal acts.

Elizabeth gave a deposition, sharing her traumatic experience and the terrible violence she suffered at the hands of her kidnappers.

After a long and exhaustive legal process, in 2010, Brian David Mitchell was found guilty of multiple charges. They included kidnapping and rape, and he was sentenced to life in prison without the right to parole.

Wanda Barzee was also convicted, receiving a sentence of 15 years in prison.

“Life is not a matter of having good cards, but of playing well with a bad hand”

Despite the terrible circumstances and the unspeakable trauma she faced, Elizabeth never allowed her identity to be completely erased. She refused to live forever as a victim.

According to her, she needed to turn on her “survival mode” and trust that one day it would end and that she would come out of this alive.

Elizabeth Smart has become an activist in cases of child abduction and abuse. In addition to the many awards she has received, she has written a book “My Story” (available only in English) that is pure emotion, where she tells in detail everything she went through during the nine months she was kidnapped.

Link to the book “My Story”, Amazon.

On June 5, 2017, 15 years after the crime, Lifetime aired the film I Am Elizabeth Smart, narrated and produced by Smart, which tells the story of her kidnapping from her perspective.

Elizabeth Smart, husband and their three children / Photo: Facebook.

Elizabeth Smart’s story is a source of hope and encouragement to all those who have faced difficult situations. It reminds us that no matter what adverse circumstances we may face, there is always the possibility of rebuilding, healing, and growth.

If you enjoyed reading this case, I suggest you learn about the story of Natascha Kampusch and Alison Botha. Both cases involve kidnapping, justice, and overcoming.

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